F.I.T. withdraws street-closing plan

By Albert Amateau

Fashion Institute of Technology has deferred its plan to reconfigure W. 27th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. into a campus commons.

The plan, proposed in March and similar to the one dropped in 2000, would have repaved the eastern two-thirds of the street at sidewalk level creating a pedestrian plaza and changed the western third of the street from one way to two ways with a cul-de-sac to allow traffic to turn around.

A spokesperson for the school, a branch of the City University of New York, said on July 19 that the plan was deferred for the foreseeable future until other F.I.T. projects are completed.

“In addition to pursuing the Commons, F.I.T. has been updating its 1995 campus-wide master plan, which will address the college’s critical space shortfall. The college has decided to follow its original intention to pursue the Commons plan once those projects have been completed. As information becomes available, F.I.T. will share the plan with all appropriate parties, including the public,” said the school’s prepared statement.

While the city’s Department of Transportation had declared that proposed streetscape of the Commons plan conforms to safety standards, the project provoked opposition from residents and businesses in privately owned buildings on the south side of the western one-third of the street.

Community Board 5 also opposed the plan and on May 12 voted 20-6 against the new streetscape. The rejection was a virtual repeat of the board’s decision in 2000 not to support a similar plan for the westbound one-way block.

The board, following objections made by tenants and owners of the private buildings on the block, questioned the safety of having two-way traffic on the western third of the block and suggested that large vehicles would find it difficult to turn around in the cul-de-sac planned for the end of the western third of the street. The board also objected on the grounds that the new streetscape would eliminate several curbside parking spaces used by residents and by vehicles making deliveries to buildings on the block.

Nevertheless, the commons plan had the support of Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets. Tom Angotti, an urban affairs professor at Hunter College, and Mark Fleischman, executive vice president of UNITE HERE, an affiliate of the needle trades union, also supported the plan.

State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, whose district office is located in one of the privately owned buildings on the block, tried in vain to encourage an agreement between the school and opponents of the commons plan.

F.I.T. had estimated the project would have cost $2.5 million, funded 50 percent by the state, 25 percent by the city and 25 percent by private sources raised by the school.

Currently and for the past several years, the one-way westbound street has had vehicle access restricted five days a week during school hours by a wooden gate at Seventh Ave., which is lifted by an F.I.T. attendant for authorized deliveries and emergency vehicles.